At the end of last week, with just a few days to go before the recall elections of Governor Scott Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, people across Wisconsin complained of receiving ominous postcards, described by the Janesville Gazette as follows:
The mailing includes a note to “Dear Registered Voter” which says, in part: “Look at the list below: Are there neighbors on this list you know? Call them or knock on their door before Election Day, and ask them to go vote on Tuesday, June 5. After the June 5th election, public records will tell everyone who voted and who didn’t. Do your civic duty-vote and remind your neighbors to vote.”
The mailing goes on to list the recipient’s name, address and whether he or she voted in November 2008 and November 2010. The same information is provided for 12 neighbors.
The information does not say-and could not say-how those people voted, of course.
(Emphases mine.) This came from a union group, of course – specifically, the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund. A somewhat less ominous, but more blatantly partisan version of the card says, “Scott Walker won in 2010 because too many people stayed home! Two years ago, more than half a million Wisconsinites who supported Obama (in 2008) failed to vote in the 2010 election. And that’s how Gov. Scott Walker got elected.” Since President Obama decided not to risk his political capital by campaigning against Walker in the state, this is the closed the unions could come to swiping a little of his faded presidential glamour for their effort.
The information used to compile these sinister little “insufficiently motivated citizen” lists is available for sale by the state to anyone who ponies up $12,500. In theory, the purpose of the list is to allow the public to review it, and if they find “someone who has died or is under Department of Corrections supervision after being convicted of a felony, they could alert authorities of the voting fraud,” as the Gazette puts it.
I’m from Florida, where a simple attempt to verify the legitimacy of 2,600 suspicious voters has been blown up into a national civil-rights crisis, so you’ll have to excuse me for a moment while I laugh myself sick. Any organization that tried to use those $12,500 voter registration lists for the high-minded purpose described by the Gazette would be hounded unto the ends of the Earth and destroyed.
But union-allied political groups can put such information to Orwellian use with veiled “we know where you live” threats, and it’s just fine. A spokesman for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board described it as “just a little over the top,” and the Gazette interviewed a local resident who complained that the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund “went and published my personal information to people I don’t know without my permission,” but there hasn’t been anything like the national outcry that would erupt if a private organization made a serious effort to combat voter fraud by checking a list of registered voters for suspicious names.
There’s something deeply offensive about the idea of enlisting door-knocking vigilantes to guilt-trip people into voting. Free people have the right to withhold their vote. It’s one thing to issue public calls to civic responsibility, but quite another to deliver personalized demands door-to-door.